Introduction: The Ebtikar Tech Challenge! was a four-month-long innovation challenge that was conducted at the InZone learning hub in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. The challenge inaugurated the soon-to-be-established FabLab and was a follow-up to the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge, which was implemented in the Kakuma refugee camp in 2021. ‘Uvumbuzi’ means ‘innovation’ in Kiswahili, ‘Ebtikar’ means ‘innovation’ in Arabic; innovation was the driving force behind the two challenges.
InZone’s learning hub was launched in the Azraq refugee camp in 2016. As a pioneer of innovative approaches to education in communities affected by conflict and crisis, InZone oversees the implementation and delivery of a variety of courses across the InZone learning ecosystem. Such courses include English Enrichment Courses, Coursera for Refugees, and the Collart-Palmrya Cultural Heritage Workshop. Furthermore, InZone is currently constructing a digital fabrication laboratory (FabLab) in Azraq, which will provide the necessary infrastructure to pave the way for the upcoming Certificate of Open Study on Digital Fabrication. Building off the success of the Kakuma FabLab, there are high hopes that the FabLab in Azraq will empower the residents of the Azraq camp to innovate solutions to the problems they face every day.
The Ebtikar Tech Challenge is the second of three phases of a three-year pilot project initiated by InZone to explore the use of digital fabrication in vulnerable settings and shed light on its impact in these contexts. The challenge was directly aimed at the development of tech-based solutions to a selection of refugee-identified problems in their living environment, helping to open new doors to the students in Azraq by exposing them to design-thinking methodology and digital fabrication technology. In turn, this provides a wealth of information as to the barriers, challenges, and knowledge gaps that need to be overcome in order to maximize the efficacy of future programs. The upcoming Certificate of Open Study on Digital Fabrication will deliver highly contextualized and needs-based courses to beneficiaries in the Azraq and Kakuma refugee camps, as well as in different humanitarian FabLabs, and will draw on the conclusions and information gathered from the Ebtikar Tech Challenge.
Participants from Azraq joined forces with students from Luminus Technical University College in Amman and Irbid in Jordan and the IOM Resilience Innovation Facility at Gaziantep University in Turkey to work together, exchange knowledge, and develop practical solutions to refugee-identified issues in order to prototype their solutions at the InZone FabLab in Azraq. Participants benefited immensely from the interdisciplinary, multicultural, and international nature of the teams, and were also guided by a range of technical and thematic experts to help them learn the necessary technical and thematic skills to realize the creation of the prototypes.
The project was structured around design-thinking methodology and consisted of two phases:
- Phase I was conducted in June and July and consisted of five interactive online training sessions, each one aimed at a different phase of the design cycle. This enabled participants in Azraq to identify problems and potential solutions for Phase II, for which they produced a short video detailing the challenges they face day to day.
- Phase II was conducted in August through October and built directly upon the work done during Phase I. Five teams of students from the different partner institutions––each focused on a different thematic area identified during Phase I––attended weekly webinars on design-thinking methodology, 3D design, 3D printing, microelectronics, and app development, in order to bring their prototypes to life using various digital fabrication tools. To support the development of their solutions, the teams received valuable feedback from weekly conversations with experts from a variety of institutions and organizations including the Swiss Embassy in Jordan, SUPSI, Antenna Foundation, Kindling Safety, BeyondBorders, NeuroTech Jordan, EPFL, University of Toronto, and Practical Action.
The thematic areas that were identified during Phase I are the following:
Shelter Safety: Due to a lack of formal fire response mechanisms, camp residents are left to fend for themselves to alert authorities that a fire has started. It is often difficult for residents to describe their precise location and for the responding authorities to locate precisely the affected area. As a consequence, inefficient and ineffective responses increase the likelihood that shelters will be completely destroyed as a result of a fire.
Transportation: Residents of the camp have to walk long distances––often in the sweltering heat––just to realize their most basic needs, such as collecting water from water points or going to school. In addition, a restriction on electric vehicles has forced residents to innovate alternative means of transportation. However, these vehicles are not always the safest or most efficient.
Electricity/Power: Unequal electricity usage across the camp, whether it be from individual shelters or businesses, results in the power supply being restricted to only a handful of hours per day. This severely impacts all aspects of life. As well, a lack of a mechanism against energy misuse prevents a more equitable allocation of energy.
Education: Quality of education in the camp is substandard compared to outside the camp, leading many students to desire to leave the camp in order to pursue better educational opportunities. However, due to a lack of funding or scholarship opportunities, this often proves to be extremely difficult, limiting the potential of thousands of students.
Water Management: Residents often have to walk long distances in order to collect water from water points. This water is severely limited in quantity and quality, leaving residents without a sufficient amount of clean water to meet their daily needs. Furthermore, the infrastructure of the water taps and poor etiquette lead to large quantities of water being wasted.
During the first three weeks of the challenge, participants attended sessions on design thinking and learned about various topics, including empathy interviews, problem definition, ideation, brainstorming, personas, scenarios, benchmarking, and research methods. The aim during this time was to transform the problems identified during Phase I into a properly defined problem statement and propose potential solutions to the problem identified. During the latter half of the challenge––the design and prototyping phases––participants learned about the fundamentals of Fusion360, Tinkercad, and Arduino, benefiting from both in-person and online sessions to finalize their prototypes.
Pictured below is one of the training sessions at the InZone learning hub in Azraq, where participants from Azraq, using Fusion360, designed their prototypes in 3D and printed them using a 3D printer. As well, an in-person session was conducted at Luminus Technical University College in Amman and Irbid, where LTUC students were able to learn about the fundamentals of 3D printing. Through the hybrid sessions, participants developed their skills to collaboratively produce their prototypes.
On October 5th, the teams presented their final prototypes to a jury and over 20 experts from a variety of technical and thematic areas. Listed below are the innovative projects that were developed during the challenge.
- Water Team (1st prize)
A water tank equipped with a filter to ensure water quality and a sensor to control the amount of water flowing from the tank and minimize water waste.
- Safety Team (2nd prize)
A hybrid smoke and heat detector and sensor equipped with GPS technology to report the precise location of fires in the camp to the fire authorities to enhance a quicker response.
- Electricity Team (3rd prize)
A sensor that monitors and controls electricity usage in individual shelters to minimize the frequency of electricity blackouts in the camp.
- Education Team
A mobile application to deliver online and offline courses, including VR and AR modules to enhance the quality of education in the camp.
- Transportation Team
A vehicle with improved usability, design, and efficiency to help enhance mobility throughout the camp.
“The Ebtikar tech challenge was a recipe for success.
Success in creating innovative solutions with local efforts to the challenges of the local community. Through it, we were able to learn, apply, and be change-makers to the daily life reality of the refugees in the Azraq refugee camp.” ––Bahaa Mohammad
“Ebtikar was for me like a journey
A journey from “I can’t” to “Yes I can”
A journey from the “impossible” to the “possible”
A journey from the impossible to the reasonable
A journey that changed a lot
With it, I learned the meaning of Ebtikar even though it is an Arabic word.” –– Fatima Al-Ali
Having started the challenge with minimal knowledge of design-thinking and digital fabrication tools, and through participating in the sessions to gain an understanding of the fundamentals of design-thinking, 3D design, microelectronics, 3D printing, and digital fabrication, the foundation was built to enable the participants to turn their ideas into a reality. The experience reflects the power of collaborative learning and problem-solving, as well as the importance of human-centric design.
However, the journey doesn’t end here. Students at the InZone Azraq learning hub will be able to continue using the FabLab in order to continue learning, creating, and innovating solutions to the problems they face day-to-day. Finally, we would like to express our deepest appreciation and gratitude to all the participants for their hard work and determination and to our partners for providing the necessary resources to empower the students and make this challenge a success.